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Unprecedented exploration of Anselm kiefer’s oeuvre opens at Centre Pompidou
Margarethe,1981. Huile, acrylique, émulsion et paille sur toile, 280 x 400 cm. The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art © Anselm Kiefer / Photo: Ian Reeves.

PARIS.- The Centre Pompidou is offering an unprecedented exploration of Anselm kiefer’s oeuvre. This retrospective, the first held in france in thirty years, invites the visitor to wander through some ten thematic rooms covering the ensemble of the german artist’s career from the late 1960s up to the present.

The exhibition occupies 2000 sqm. and presents nearly one hundred and fifty works: sixty paintings selected among the major masterpieces, an installation, an ensemble of vitrines and works on paper as well as a few of the artist’s earliest books. Laid out in a sequence of thematic rooms correlated with specific times and spaces, the exhibition includes an exceptional selection of Anselm Kiefer’s most emblematic paintings, landmarks in his career: works like Resurrexit (1973), Quaternität (1973), Varus (1976), Margarethe (1981) and Sulamith (1983) or again Für Paul Celan: Aschenblume (2006) are the “pivotal” paintings of the different issues involved: the question of Germany’s history, the reawakening of memory, the dialectics of destruction and creation, the mourning of Yiddish culture. Successively, in the early 1990s, Anselm Kiefer’s plastic world opened up to other intellectual systems of thought such as the Kabbalah, that enriched and reoriented the artist’s fundamental questionings. In 2015 the artist produced within this new project an ensemble of some forty vitrines on the themes of alchemy and the Kabbalah, drawing from a “reservoir of possibilities” an arsenal of objects awaiting redemption. Displayed under glass these environments bring into play the battered and Saturnine world of a bygone industrial age: old machines, rusty metal scraps, plants, photographs, drawings, strips and objects in lead. Unlike curiosity cabinets, what the artist emphasises is the mystery of their presence, the emission of the mysterious light inherent to alchemy.

Anselm kiefer’s œuvre, with a singular plastic and visual intensity, invites the visitor to discover several poetic, literary and philosophic worlds, ranging from the poetry of Paul Celan, ingeborg bachmann or jean genet, to the philosophy of heidegger, alchemical treatises, the sciences, esotericism, the hebrew thought of the Talmud and the kabbalah.

On entering the lobby of the Centre Pompidou visitors will be confronted with one of the monumental installations the artist made at Barjac (Southern France) where he lived and worked from 1993 to 2007. Inside this “tower-house” installed in the large Centre Pompidou reception area, a saturnine world awaits the public. Inside the installation visitors will discover the artist’s favourite material, lead, with thousands of photographs taken by Anselm Kiefer throughout his career, and that constitute a near biographic archive. Like a memory unscrolled, these bands sustain the artist’s meditation on the two central themes of his work: time and memory.

Born in March 1945 at Donaueschingen, Anselm Kiefer, alongside Georg Baselitz, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Jörg Immendorff, took part in the 1970’s revival of German painting that took place in an international context marked by Neo-Expressionism. Anselm Kiefer’s work was immediately perceived as singular, through its obsessive treatment of History and the myths intrinsic to Germanic culture. Representing Germany at the 1980 Venice Biennial with Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer was accused of awakening the demons of a grievous past and even suspected of nationalistic deviations. Today’s derelict urban landscapes – where blocks of concrete are intermingled with twisted metal – performed the catharsis of an original trauma connected with his birth in 1945, spawning an aesthetics of ruins. Since the Renaissance, with Joachim du Bellay and then Hubert Robert, Diderot and the Romantics, there has been a tradition of an art of ruins, with Anselm Kiefer however it is enacted, it is the present. For the artist, matter contains its own spirit and its memory. To the usual materials of painting he adds clay, plaster, plants (straws, sunflowers, poppies and ferns), ashes, metals like iron, and especially lead that he has been using since the 1970s. For the artist this metal is endowed with elective virtues: physical qualities of pliability, extreme density, impermeability to electromagnetic rays. For Anselm Kiefer this material, essential for alchemists in their process of transmutation, is capable of producing a spark of light, “a spark that seems to belong to another world, a world inaccessible to us.”

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